Fatter than Samoans – grim statistics as health officials gather for debate on disease epidemic

Tongans are fat, unhealthy and ripe for heart attacks and diabetes.

As government and United Nations officials gather in Nuku’alofa for the Pacific Non-communicable Diseases Summit, a recently released report on global nutrition paints a worrying picture of health in Tonga.

According to The Global Nutrition Report, Tonga has the highest level of adult diabetes on the planet.

Out of 190 countries surveyed by report, Tonga has the highest incidence of the disease, with 26% of its population affected.

“Across the globe, excessive intake of energy-dense food, a form of malnutrition, together with reduced physical activity, has led to an epidemic of obesity, overweight, and nutrition-related non-communicable diseases,” the report said.

Small island developing states in areas like the Pacific and the Caribbean had been particularly affected.

The Pacific Community, which is organising the Nuku’alofa summit, has described non-communicable diseases such heart disease, cancers, lung disease and diabetes as the leading cause of death in the Pacific.

In some countries life expectancy was falling because NCD-related premature deaths.

Island nations face increasing costs from NCDs, especially when they are too poor to provide medical services or prevent  non-communicable diseases.

According to The Global Nutrition Report, Tongans are fatter than Samoans, with 74.8% of the adult population affected, as opposed to 74.3% in Samoa.

And there is little comfort in knowing that when it comes to all-out obesity, Tonga is slightly better off than Samoa, with 43.4% of the population affected, as opposed to 43.4% of Samoans.

The Global Nutrition Report says nearly all women in the kingdom are overweight and 70 percent of them are obese.

Along adults, nearly all women are overweight and 70 percent of them are obese.

A total of 86 % of men are overweight, with 49 percent obese.

The report says more than half Tonga’s teenagers are overweight and a fifth of them are obese.

Warning signs for non-communicable diseases are present in a large proportion of the population.

The Global Nutrition Report says that 44% of Tongan men have high blood pressure, 17% have high levels of blood sugar and 45% have high levels of cholesterol. Among Tongan women, 35% have high blood pressure, 19 percent have high blood sugar and 45 % have high levels of cholesterol.

These are all indicators of heart disease and diabetes.

Other worrying signs are that nearly one fifth of women of child bearing age have anaemia and 17% of all pre-school age children have vitamin A deficiency.

Government spending on health in Tonga rose marginally from 8.8% of GDP in 200 to 9.6% in 2010 while spending on social protection has shrunk from 5.5% in 2000 to 1.8% in 2010.

According to the report, guidelines on managing non communicable diseases such as diabetes and hypertension and been only partially implemented when data was gathered in 2010.

Fattest on the planet

The Global Nutrition Report listed the following countries as having the highest prevalence of adult overweight and obesity. Seven of them are small developing Pacific islands. The other three are oil rich Gulf states.

Kiribati 73.1$

Tuvalu 73.2%

United Arab Emirates 74%

Samoa 74.3%

Tonga 74/8%

Kuwait 75.4%

Marshall Islands 75.8%

Nauru 77.8%

Qatar 78.1%

Palau 79.3%

For more information

Pacific Non-communicable Diseases Summit (Pacific Community)

Global Nutrition Report

First Pacific Non-Communicable Disease Summit Underway in Tonga (EMTV, PNG)

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